May 8—COVID-19 changed area nursing since it hit the Muskogee area in March 2020, health care leaders said.
"Everything shifted to doing nothing but COVID," recalled Joan Lange, coordinating nurse at Muskogee County Health Department.
Lange, who also serves as the county's communicable disease nurse, said she spent March through December investigating all the positive COVID-19 cases in Muskogee.
"From December, our task turned to vaccination," she said.
Lange and other nurses have worked at the free vaccination clinic each Thursday at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, which she manages. They also worked at "vaccine PODs" throughout the county and at the county health department clinic.
Three Rivers Health Center Manager Robert Scott, BSN, RN, said the pandemic changed how nurses interacted with patients.
"We went from seeing patients face to face without a mask to wearing a mask and doing a Telehealth visit over the phone or through a Skype or a Zoom visit," Scott said. "We did a lot of nursing through that, gather as much information as we can over the phone."
The health center moved some things outside, including COVID-19 testing, Scott said.
On the other hand, as the pandemic limited or cut family access to hospitalized patients, nurses became patients' primary means of support, said Rebecca Shepherd, senior nursing director for Cherokee Nation Health Services.
Lange said the role of nursing has remained the same throughout the pandemic.
"We still have to provide care for our patients. Whether it's a COVID patient or not, we're still a nurse," she said. "Our job roles haven't changed. It's still a different aspect, more focused on one thing than multiple things.
The pandemic has made permanent changes in nursing.
Lange said she expects nurses to keep wearing masks while working in the clinic, as well as stay safely distanced from other staff.
"Those may not change for a while," she said.
Shepherd said "some version of Telehealth is around here to stay, not just in our health system, but multiple health systems."
More importantly, she said, the rush to immunize massive populations rapidly made vaccination delivery more efficient.
"That's something that even our yearly flu efforts or any type of vaccination effort, we learned so much from this process that we're going to have a much more efficient and stronger process going forward," she said.
And nurses have risen to the occasion.
"Service lines, things that would have taken us months to set up took us a matter of days or weeks when this first started," Shepherd said. "We've adapted, and our nurses have gone above and beyond. They really put their heart and soul into caring for patients during this time."